SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia said on Sunday it would pay rewards of up to Aus$200,000 (US$180,000) for information leading to the conviction of people-smugglers, as it defended its tougher approach on asylum-seekers.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Friday announced that refugees arriving on unauthorised boats would have no chance of being resettled in Australia in a bid to stop the rush of asylum-seekers arriving by sea. Instead they will be sent to poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea for processing.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said Sunday that Australian Federal Police would also pay rewards for the capture of the people-smugglers behind the boats and their associates.
"These people are peddling in misery and death. We need to shut this market down. That's why we are putting a bounty on their heads," Clare said.
"We have taken the product they are selling off the shelves, we also need to lock these people up.
"If you provide police with the information we need to lock people smugglers up you will receive up to $200,000."
More than 15,600 asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia by boat in 2013, despite scores of drownings en route in recent years, and the issue is set to be key in upcoming national elections.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said that boat arrivals could top 50,000 this year as he defended the government's toughened approach of sending would-be refugees to Papua New Guinea.
"The spike in the numbers of people being brought by people smugglers makes it unavoidable," he told Sky News.
"You have got 3,000 people arriving a month. The annual rate is something like 40 to 50,000 a year if it continues at this level.
"If it continues at this level -- the prime minister was very persuaded by this -- it could rise further as people smugglers really close in to make a financial killing."
Carr said the new approach carried the message that asylum-seekers, who paid people-smugglers thousands of dollars to bring them to Australia, were risking their lives at sea but would still not be resettled in Australia.
"The simple bold message is we decided where you are processed, we decided where you are settled and if you arrive by boat without a visa it is not going to be on Australian soil," Carr said.
Australian Federal Police said they were battling more than one syndicate involved in people-smuggling as they called for the public's help in shutting down the networks.
Clare said criminals in Australia were part of international people-smuggling syndicates which stretched from Australia to Indonesia and to places such as Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.
He said these people helped to organise passengers, collect payments from asylum-seekers and transfer money overseas.
The penalty for people smuggling offences in Australia is up to 20 years in jail.